Log in / Register
Home arrow Management arrow Achieving ethical excellence


Stephan Millett

Peter Bowden's Applied Ethics takes seriously David Carr's claim that the tasks that professionals undertake are essentially moral and seeks to pro- vide a clear and readable introduction to moral behaviour within the pro- fessions (Carr, 2000). It succeeds in its aims to bring easy-to-understand essays to generalist readers while also providing a particular focus for four audiences: university and college teachers in ethics, and their students; peo- ple who work in ethics jobs in companies and government agencies; mem- bers of the professions; and legislators and policy makers responsible for ethics guidelines. It is in two parts, with a total of 21 chapters.

Part I comprises seven chapters and establishes an 'ethical framework'

through six concepts that can underpin the strengthening of ethical prac- tices: distinguishing right from wrong; speaking out against wrongdoing; establishing a code of ethics; institutionalising ethical behaviour; building an ethical culture; and teaching and training in ethics. These introductory< chapters go beyond the usual introduction to ethical theory - although there is adequate and well-expressed theory too - to look at some impor- tant practical concepts, including how to change institutional structures, how to build an ethical culture and how to build codes of ethics that avoid some of the limitations of such codes.

Part II has 14 chapters, each dealing with a separate discipline (medical ethics; nursing; pharmacy; business; marketing; accounting; police; politics; lawyers; engineering; science; veterinary medicine; journalism; and informa- tion and communication technology). There are three common themes that run through these chapters: obligation to exercise a duty of care in the work that is performed; the value of judgement; and placing value on ques- tioning the basis of an activity, for example whether profit itself is justifi- able, rather than focus on ethical ways to pursue profit.

The authors in this anthology sponsored by the Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics are well known and respected in their respective fields. They have all succeeded in writing clearly for a general audience willing to think about ethical issues. While easy to read, the con- tent is not simplistic and although in this review I do not propose to discuss each of the chapters, it is worth noting the essays by Stephen Cohen and Hugh Breakey that open the first part of the book. These are thoughtful, careful and erudite while still capable of appealing to the audiences to which the book as a whole is directed. They set a scene for thinking about ethics. Cohen's essay, based at least in part on material published in two of his significant books (Business Ethics and The Nature of Moral Reasoning), casts a clear light on difficult ideas while maintaining a lightness of touch that will appeal to generalist readers. Breakey's coverage of moral plural- ism is clear and thoughtful and does much to explain how it is possible - indeed desirable and practical - to employ multiple principles to inform ethical decision-making. He does this by introducing three approaches to ethics: William Frankena's mixed deontological theory, Tom Beauchamp and James Childress' principlism, and Bernard Gert's 'common morality'. He then seeks to identify common elements in these approaches before addressing objections to moral pluralism. The chapters on whistleblowing (Peter Bowden) and codes of ethics (Vanya Smythe) discuss the strengths and weaknesses of two key issues in professional ethics. Bowden's is a useful survey of the problems of whistleblowing and the inadequacy of protections afforded whistleblowers - an inadequacy that helps explain why so few people who observe wrongdoing in organisations report that wrongdoing. Smythe's critique of the effectiveness of codes of ethics, again, is useful. It might have included reference to Onora O'Neill's paradox of

Bowden (2012). Applied Ethics 165 trust and the ineffectiveness of regulation in fostering ethical behaviour, but in other respects presents a valuable coverage (O'Neil, 2002). Notable among her suggestions is to promote codes that are developed with genuine staff involvement and not codes that are delivered from the 'top, down'. The final chapters in the first part of the book examine ways to build ethical behaviour into an organisation - by establishing organisa- tional structures and process (Andrew Donnelly and Peter Bowden); by fostering ethical leadership (Michael Segon) and by teaching and training in ethics (Peter Bowden and Vanya Smythe).

The chapters focusing on individual professions that form the second part of the book are, in the main, quite short introductions to the ethics of specific professions. In themselves they would be suitable introductions that might be provided to junior undergraduates or new employees (or new members of the profession). That they are short necessarily limits the depth of the approach, but also readily allows comparison across disciplines. For example, health practitioners generally would benefit from reading the chapters on medical ethics, nursing ethics and pharmacy ethics - particu- larly in a healthcare environment that is increasingly taking a team approach to health. Similarly, business, accounting and marketing students and professionals would benefit from reading the respective chapters apply- ing to these disciplines. The inclusion of Alan Tapper's chapter on ethics in politics is interesting in that politics is not a profession and so the ethics of politics is not usually included in anthologies such as these, despite the very obvious importance of ethical behaviour in this sphere.

It may be tempting for readers to concentrate on material in their own discipline, whatever that may be, but the individual authors in this anthol- ogy of commissioned papers have much to say of relevance beyond their particular disciplines. Readers of the book should be encouraged to read critically across the disciplines covered and note the similarities and differ- ences in practice. In doing so they should also note how the ethical tools and ways of understanding introduced in one context - whether in a speci- fic discipline or in the material in the first part of the book - may be adapted and employed in others. The notion of a 'role morality' for instance applies in whatever professional role we choose to work in. Ensuring that 'role morality' is a positive, rather than a pejorative, epithet would seem to be a core obligation of all professionals.

It may be that people cannot be taught to be ethical but, as the editor says in the introduction, the book 'can provide those who wish to work in an ethical environment with the knowledge and capabilities to bring about that environment'. This is a useful, readable and well-conceived book. Its examples are primarily Australian, but there is sufficient mate- rial for a more general audience for it to find a market beyond Australia. It is a welcome addition to the discussion of ethics in the professions.


Carr, D. (2000). Professional education and professional ethics. In G. De Stexhe &

J. Verstraeten (Eds.), Matter of breath: Foundations for professional ethics (pp. 15-34). Leuven: Peeters.

O'Neill, O. (2002). Autonomy and trust in bioethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >
Business & Finance
Computer Science
Language & Literature
Political science